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Books of the Year | 12 November 2011

A further selection of our reviewers’ favourite reading in 2011 Richard Davenport-Hines Amidst the din, slogans and panic of modern publishing, my cherished books are tender, calm and achieve a surpassing eloquence by dint of tightly controlled reticence. Anthony Thwaite’s Late Poems (Enitharmon, £10) are written by a man of 80. Each of them is

Bookends: About a boy

The Go-Between was L.P. Hartley’s best novel, Joseph Losey’s best film, and probably Harold Pinter’s best screenplay. In the novel, the Norfolk house and estate are fairly incidental but, as Christopher Hartop’s charming and generously illustrated Norfolk Summer: Making The Go-Between (John Adamson, £12.99) reminds us, they dominate the film. As a local historian and

The legacies of Jennifer Johnston

Cross the soaring Foyle Bridge from the East and take the route to Donegal. Shortly before you cross the border — now completely imperceptible — you will find the grand, imposing gates to a country house. As you descend the drive, the hum of traffic subsides and the years, centuries, roll back. Had it been

Bird Brain by Guy Kennaway

Basil Peyton-Crumbe is a multi-millionaire landowner. An embattled man known to all, even his dogs, as ‘Banger’, he claims to have despatched at least 41,000 pheasants with the cheap old 12-bore he’s had since childhood. Shooting pheasants, he believes, is ‘an exquisite accomplishment’, as complex as writing a sonata or designing a cathedral. On the

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

The novels of Jane Austen have much in common with traditional detective fiction. It is an affinity that P. D. James has herself explored, notably in her essay ‘Emma Considered as a Detective Story’, which she included as an appendix to her memoir, Time to Be in Earnest. Both types of fiction operate within enclosed

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

Emily ‘Fido’ Faithfull, a stout, plain, clever Victorian, founder-member of the feminist Langham Place group, manager of the ground-breaking Victoria Press which extends employment possibilities for women, has her story lightly fictionalised in The Sealed Letter. The action starts with the return from a posting to Malta of Fido’s erstwhile best friend, Helen Codrington, a

The Conservatives: A History by Robin Harris

If David Cameron and his friends wish to know why they and their policies are so despised by some Conservatives of high intellect and principle, they should read Robin Harris. His book is a marvel of concision, lucidity and scholarship, with penetrating things to say about Peel, Disraeli, Salisbury, Baldwin, Churchill, Macmillan and the rest.

The Diamond Queen by Andrew Marr

‘Of making many books there is no end’, particularly when the subject is Queen Elizabeth II. It is less than ten years since Ben Pimlott and Sarah Bradford independently produced authoritative and excellent biography-centred books on the Queen. Since then a fair number of minor studies have appeared. Can enough have happened in the meantime,

Blue Night by Joan Didion

This is a raw, untidy, ragged book. Well, grief is all of those things. On the other hand, Didion wrote about the death of her husband in an iconic memoir, A Year of Magical Thinking, which apart from being raw was none of them. So she knows how it can be done.  That book was

A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright

It is where cookery is involved that tele-vision gives perhaps the greatest succour to the book trade. After Jennifer Paterson’s death in 1999, the remaining ‘Fat Lady’ barrelled into view with Clarissa and the Countryman, Clarissa and the King’s Cookbook, as a gamekeeper in an episode of Absolutely Fabulous and as presenter for a documentary

The Brain is Wider Than the Sky by Bryan Appleyard

With all the advances of science, we may be no nearer to understanding ourselves than before, says Anthony Daniels — but we shouldn’t dismiss the possibility outright Some years ago I had a patient who believed that his neighbours, unskilled workers like himself, had developed an electronic thought-scanner whose antennae they could, and did, direct